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Levelling Up provides an opportunity for us to reassess action on suicide prevention

3 min read

Suicide is preventable, not inevitable. World Suicide Prevention Day, 10th September, gives us a chance to reflect on the actions we can take to tackle it.

Suicide is a complex issue. It is also a very human issue. On the 7th September, I stood outside the gates of 10 Downing Street to meet Matthew, who had run 289 miles from Chester le Street, Co. Durham, to deliver a letter to the new Prime Minister. This letter urged the Prime Minister to take action on suicide prevention as part of the Levelling Up agenda.

Matthew’s brother, Daniel, took his own life when Matthew was 10. Matthew has since set up a charity – If U Care, Share – to help others going through a tough time. Their story is a reminder that each suicide is a real person, with friends, family and colleagues who feel the effects. This must be the guiding principle of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

This strategy must also recognise the complexity of suicide and the challenge it poses. 5,583 people in England and Wales tragically died by suicide in 2021, and it is the biggest killer of people aged 16 – 24. There is no singular cause of these statistics. However, there are risk factors – psychological, social, economic and cultural - that are differentially distributed across and within communities. Levelling Up provides an opportunity to tackle some of these factors. Research by the Samaritans has found that men living in the most deprived areas are up to ten times more likely to die by suicide than men from more affluent areas. Issues such as unemployment, housing problems, and the difficulty of living on benefits have become matters of survival. The Government must address these issues if it is going to tackle suicide.

Such complexity calls for joined-up working. Ahead of our last APPG meeting, we asked for a speaker from the DLUHC and were referred back to Health. Whilst Health may lead, suicide is a matter for every government department. The Online Safety Bill, for example, is an opportunity to tackle the issue of suicide and self-harm content which – according to a 2017 inquiry – is related to more than 25% of deaths in under-20s. The Bill must return to parliament, with amendments requiring all platforms to address the risk posed by legal but harmful suicide content. It must also include encouraging and assisting self-harm as priority illegal content.

Suicide prevention is also a matter for local government. The NHS long term plan allocated £57 million for suicide prevention and bereavement services to local areas. However, £25million of this funding only ran until 2020/21, and all funding supporting local areas’ core suicide prevention plans ceases in 2023/24. We need renewed ringfenced funding across three years to support local areas to develop and deliver targeted non-clinical services to prevent suicide; it is not an area that can be left to local discretion.

Research carried out on men – who represent three quarters of all suicides – similarly highlights the need for co-ordination. The Samaritans have found that men struggling with suicidality have often been in contact with statutory services outside of mental health support, such as criminal justice, addiction and employment services. However, opportunities to provide support were missed - often until crisis situations. This research highlights the need for early intervention, accessible through a range of statutory services, as well as investment in voluntary sector and community provision.

This World Suicide Prevention Month, I am calling for an approach to suicide prevention that reflects this complexity. Such an approach must be systematic, not discretionary, and co-ordinated, not fragmented. This is the approach that people like Matthew and Daniel deserve. 

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